Clause 43 - Notice requiring production of documents

Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 10th January 2006.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State (Quality and Patient Safety), Department of Health

The clause deals with the notice requiring the production of documents and, generally speaking, with disclosure. The crux of our concerns is that this and the next couple of clauses might cause a problem as regards confidentiality and the handling of sensitive data. I am particularly worried by the obligation that the clause places on NHS contractors to disclose. That obligation is important because, under this Government, health services are being used in a more catholic way and without regard necessarily being given to the boundaries between the NHS and the private sector. I welcome that because it is a good thing, but it self-evidently causes difficulties in contractual arrangements.

One difficulty is that we are introducing legislation that might require retrospection. There is currently a large number of contracts with various partners in the private sector, which lay out terms and conditions fairly clearly, and, I imagine, deal with issues such as disclosure. I also imagine that most independent sector providers regard their records as their business and would want to protect their patients' confidentiality as closely as they can—I certainly hope that that would be the case. However, the Bill places obligations on such providers, and my question to the Minister is whether those will be deemed to be retrospective. In other words, will the Bill alter the contractual arrangement that the NHS has with those who provide services in the independent sector or is it simply prospective?

If the Bill is retrospective, that clearly introduces a range of interesting conundrums. Prospectively, it might well alter the way in which independent sector providers view the NHS. Many such providers deal with highly sensitive material on individuals and would clearly want to be absolutely sure that any information that they divulged was suitably anonymised. I would be grateful if the Minister commented on the measures that she will take to ensure that providers are given the confidence that they require to take forward contract negotiations with the NHS. However, I am particularly concerned about any possible element of retrospection.  

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State (Quality and Patient Safety), Department of Health

On retrospection, the counter fraud service already has powers to recover losses—even going back over time—where it uncovers fraud and can demonstrate that it has taken place. Where there is evidence that the contractor has abused contracts that have been agreed, the counter fraud service already has powers to recover funds from the organisation that has been defrauding the NHS. Those powers will apply to records—including those created before the legislation—that might be relevant to counter-fraud work. There would need to be clear evidence of fraud, and the vast majority of people engaging in contracts with the NHS have nothing to be concerned about in these powers. However, as I have said, there are already powers to take action. They have been used on many occasions and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds have been recovered for the NHS through being able to demonstrate that fraud had been taking place.

The new powers will apply to all those who are directly employed and, equally, to all of those contracted to provide medical services to the NHS. By that, I do not just mean the independent sector. All of those who are contracted but whom we do not normally think of as working in the private sector—GPs, for example, opticians, dentists and others—would be counted as such contractors.

I hope that I have given the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he sought in raising those concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 44 to 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill..